Three Americans have died after a water tanker plane crashed in a fireball while fighting bushfires in southeastern Australia.
All three of the C-130 Hercules plane’s crew were killed when it went down near Peak View, in Australia’s alpine region, close to a blaze burning out of control in the Wadbilliga National Park, the fire service said.
New South Wales Rural Fire Services Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, said: “Tragically, there appears to be no survivors as a result of the crash down in the Snowy Monaro area.
Image: A Coulson Aviation water tanker plane has gone missing while fighting Australia bushfires. File pic
“[The tanker] impacted heavily with the ground and initial reports are that there was a large fireball associated with the impact of the plane as it hit the ground. There is no indication at this stage of what’s caused the accident.”
A spokesman for Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority said the aircraft went into a valley to drop the retardant and didn’t come out.
Rural Fire Service (RFS) officials said the plane, which was operated by Coulson Aviation, which has offices in Canada and the US, was carrying out waterbombing activities before it went down.
Coulson, which will send a team to the crash site to help the emergency operations, confirmed the plane was on a firebombing mission to battle bushfires and was carrying a load of retardant.
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In a short statement, the firm, which grounded other firefighting aircraft out of respect and as a precaution pending investigation, said: “The accident is reported to be extensive and we are deeply saddened to confirm there were three fatalities.”
The RFS added that they lost contact with the aircraft, which took off from Richmond RAAF base at 1pm, and disappeared from the flight radar just after 2pm, and the flight tracker stopped.
Image: Fire crews working to contain a fire near Canberra
The scene has been cordoned off by police, the RFS added.
A witness, hotel receptionist Belinda Greene, from Bredbo, 56 miles (91km) south of Canberra, said she heard police cars racing by in the early afternoon and “saw a lot of smoke all of a sudden”.
The city’s airport closed because of nearby bushfires earlier on Thursday, with residents south of the city told to take shelter.
The fires in Canberra started on Wednesday but strong winds and high temperatures caused conditions in the city to deteriorate.
A second fire near the airport that started on Thursday morning is at the “watch and act” level.
The airport authority said in a tweet: “Arrivals and departures are affected due to aviation firefighting operations.”
Image: Burning embers are seen on the ground during the bushfires in New South Wales
Another tweet from traffic police said “the fire is moving fast and there are multiple road closures in the area. Please avoid the area. Local road blocks in place”.
Defence Minister Angus Campbell told reporters: “The defence force is both assisting to a degree and looking to whether that needs to be reinforced.”
He added: “I have people who are both involved as persons who need to be moved from areas and office buildings that are potentially in danger, and also those persons who are part of the (Operation) Bushfire Assist effort.”
The number of dead has risen to 32 since the fires, which have ravaged an area equivalent to one third of Germany, began.
At least 2,500 homes have been destroyed and an estimated one billion animals have also perished.
Source : Sky News